Rolling Loud Festival’s Matt Zingler And Tariq Cherif Speak On Growth, Staying ‘For The Culture’

– Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif

It’s been a wild ride for Tariq Cherif and Matt Zingler, whose Rolling Loud Festival has expanded into New York, Los Angeles, Northern California’s Bay Area, Hong Kong, and Australia, with Europe and South America likely coming soon – quite a step up from the duo’s humble origins in Miami, where the flagship Rolling Loud still shakes the hip-hop world annually after five editions. 

In a highly competitive festival market, Rolling Loud has shown there is a lane for large, independent genre-dedicated festivals and the industry has taken notice. Pollstar spoke with the founders in the midst of their 2019 sprint – right after Rolling Loud Bay Area delighted 40,000 fans Sept. 28-29, with Rolling Loud Los Angeles announced for Dec. 14-15 and the first Rolling Loud NYC this weekend, at Citi Field Oct. 12-13. 

What are you most excited for at Rolling Loud NYC?
Cherif: We’re a Miami-born festival, but New York is the Mecca of hip-hop. With us being the largest hip-hop festival, going back to the Mecca just feels right, like a homecoming. 
Zingler: Also it’s really fun to be able to tailor the booking of the event to a New York-style. Each event has a local flair to it and it’s really cool to be able to add an artist like Wu-Tang Clan that maybe wouldn’t make sense in Miami or LA, but makes great sense in New York. Also New York being so in-tune on the fashion side, we’re really excited for our pop-ups and collabs with brands. Our merchandising in general, we’re very excited for some of the unique garments there. For example, the Wu-Tang Clan collab for a limited piece drop.
Cherif: That’s a big deal for us. Not a lot of people get the rights to use the Wu-Tang logo, in collaboration or at all. It’s a big opportunity, it’s a project that Matt spearheaded, and we’re stoked on it.
So you guys are adopting a seemingly strict clear-bag policy for all events, starting with Rolling Loud NYC. Why now?
Tariq Cherif: Well it’s not like we’re picking on New York, it’s every show moving forward. Also, we’re not the first to enact a clear-bag policy. Regardless of what our bag policy is, your bag will be searched at the door. Everything is an effort to make the show even more safe than it already is. Thankfully, we’ve never had a real incident, and we’re just trying to stay as safe as possible.
If the NFL has a clear-bag policy, we think we should too. Don’t get me wrong, we love your man-purses and your Supreme satchels, all that. But we love safety more and we want our show to be around for a long time, so we want to do every foreseeable thing to keep it as safe as possible.
Matt Zingler: Also, it’s the comfortability level. When you are on a site, you want to feel as comfortable as possible. A lot of fans might be like “Wow, they’re barely checking bags” and “there’s backpacks everywhere.” As a standard we have bag-check lines, metal detectors, wands, etc. We [already] take extreme precautions but a lot of fans don’t understand the security measures we implement, and it’s a lot easier for someone to say “Oh, all the bags are clear, so you can see through them anyway.” 
And we just believe it’s overall safer. But really, it’s comfort-level though. We feel it shows the fans we hear them and it’s an easy change for us.  
[There will be a bag-check system for all non-compliant bags and acceptably sized, clear bags will be available onsite]
So East Asia and Australia already have the Rolling Loud flag planted. Obviously you must be headed to Europe at some point soon?
Cherif: Well Europe’s got a lot of festivals, so we have to get in where we fit in when it comes to Europe, and that is something that we’re still assessing. 

Zingler: We are targeting 2020 for Europe, though. We also just want to come correct. We obviously had the opportunity to scale it down a little bit, but when we do choose a market that has competition like Europe, we really need to come in strong, and that takes time and planning and choosing the right partners. 
Cherif: We could have done a 5,000- to- 10,000 person show in Europe already, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to go there with a three or four artist lineup, we want to come correct.
Zingler: We’re also looking at South America as well. 
How do you know what to book in all these different markets, especially internationally?
Cherif: [Well] the internet is amazing. We’re able to tap into what’s going on in other markets based on [information available on] the internet and the different tools at our disposal. But we also rely a lot on our local partners. Whenever we go somewhere, we’re not going in there blind. Either they find us or we find them, but we need the right local partner to be our boots on the ground. We could never do this without them.  
Does Rolling Loud consider artist development a core part of its role in the ecosystem?  
Zingler: So artists do get paid more for festivals because the radius clauses are in there. So when we see a developing artist is hot, we book them six to eight months in advance, and we are betting on their future. 
[For these acts] it’s a lot easier to show up at a festival, get paid three times their value and have their production already there. When they’re on tour, they pay for production, there’s a lot of overhead costs and they are only relying on themselves to generate ticket revenue. A lot of times, since overheads are so high between the tour bus, security, and production, it doesn’t make financial sense for them to go on tour, it’s almost just a promo run for them. So a lot of artists prefer to do big-money festival plays. 
And on the development side, Rolling Loud is a great platform for exposure and to open their eyes if they’ve never gone on tour with heavy production. We do have pyro, cryo, mass lights, the whole production we are very aggressive with. If they bring production separately, we will do that as well. 
But if you look at developing artists, it’s difficult to get the same amount of money and having four events in the U.S., we’re able to bully offer all four events, which entices them to do those markets with us rather than on tour. Devloping artists will [usually only pass] if they have the opportunity to open for a bigger artist in arenas. 
Cherif: I’ve seen multiple labels – I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus – plan their year and their rollout around Rolling Loud, knowing that it’s the safer bet. At the end of the day, they can prove themselves with the hard tickets when they get that opportunity, but if their goal at first is to reach a critical mass, Rolling Loud is a great opportunity to do that and I’ve seen them do that. 
Competitors – notably, Goldenvoice with Day N Vegas – seem to have noticed of your success. Any comment on emerging competition?
Cherif: Rolling Loud is for the culture. Period. Anybody else is in it for the money. We started this before there was any money. Anybody imitating us is in it for a check, but we were in it, since day one to push the culture forward.
Zingler: That’s really what our brand represents. We are here for the long-game, we are doing this for the music, to support talent, to bring something like this to communities that can sustain it.
There will always be competition for every brand, Coke versus Pepsi, Starbucks versus 200 other cafés. I hope [our competitors] do great, but it’s very difficult what we do. It’s not just about booking a big lineup. It’s the site experience and the energy at the show. That’s extremely important and something that Rolling Loud has developed over the span of six years. You can’t just create a festival and a whole vibe in six months, it just doesn’t work like that. 
I believe there isn’t any vibe at the new festivals, and I think that’s what differentiates Rolling Loud from the competition. And I think it will bring more appreciation for what we do. We make it look easy, and it’s not easy. The more competition that comes and tries to do what we do, it actually will make us look better as a brand.